This War of Mine - game title

Games have an awkward relationship with war. Most games embrace violence and conflict because they are very easily simulated by computers and mapped to a set of easy-to-understand mechanics. Computers aren't as good at understanding or reacting to speech or emotion as they are at allowing a character to move around in a space and at tracing the path of a bullet or artillery shell. So when a game is about war, it's almost always told from the perspective of a soldier, someone actively participating in the war. And that character's participation is usually presented as noble and honorable, with the people that you are shooting being given little - if any - humanization at all. In many cases, the games will go out of their way to de-humanize the player's opponents by presenting them as literal demons, aliens, or the so-easy-to-hate Nazis.

While there are plenty of examples of games that deal with the behind-the-scenes causes and effects of a war, or the politics of conflict, these elements very rarely appear as central gameplay elements (outside of grand strategy games like Civilization, Total War, or Europa Universalis). Usually, the player plays on the battlefield, and any politics or effects beyond the battlefield are just material for non-playable cutscenes. At best, you might end up with a game that puts the player in the middle of the battle, but which has civilian characters that play a large role in the story.

One of my favorite games of the PS2-era is Ace Combat 4, which is a jet fighter combat game that found a comfortable middle-ground between flight sim and arcade shooter. Its narrative revolved around a child living in an occupied city, who befriends the ace fighter pilot of the occupying nation's air force. The player, however, takes on the role of a nameless, faceless ace fighter pilot belonging to the opposing liberation force. This created a fascinating dichotomy in which your success in missions resulted in defeats for the enemy ace who was the focus of the narrative. He falls into depression and alcoholism as the player systematically shoots down his wingmen and friends, and it served to humanize both sides of the conflict and exposed the human cost of war. One man's victory is the other's defeat. Your own victories became increasingly bittersweet as the game neared its final mission. It was a beautifully constructed scenario that has stuck with me to this day. I suspect that This War of Mine will leave a similar impact on me.

This War of Mine - stockpile
The logistics of keeping your shelves stocked with food and medicine is the primary challenge.

This War of Mine also reminds me of my visit to the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, U.K. this past January. I was really surprised by the difference in presentation that museum had as opposed to most museums that I visit in the United States. Whereas a museum in the U.S. will focus on exhibits of weapons, uniforms, vehicles, battle tactics, and politics behind wars, the IWM was focused primarily around the civilian costs of the two World Wars. It featured exhibits about food and material shortages, how women had to work as battlefield nurses and in factories, and how supplies were moved between cities under siege. It presented the wars as much more personal and ignoble and focused on how it affected people's day-to-day lives, and how the majority of people simply had to live through it. That's the same approach that the Polish studio behind This War of Mine took for their survival game.

Behind the lines

This War of Mine doesn't take place on the front lines or the battlefields. Instead of controlling a soldier, you play as a group of survivors in a rebellious city under siege. You have found a shelled building that you have claimed as a shelter, and every night, you must send one of your group out to scavenge one of various sites around the city for food, medicines, and other supplies to enable your group to [hopefully] survive till the end of the war. In the meantime, those who stay in the shelter must contend with the risk of being raided by other survivors during the night and having your hard-earned supplies stolen from under your own nose - or worse: somebody being hurt or killed.

This War of Mine - shelter
Your close-knit group of survivors must build and defend a shelter and scavenge for supplies.

The result is a game loaded to the brim with choices and consequences. How do your survivors spend their daytime hours? What items do you attempt to craft from your middling inventory of supplies? How do you defend yourself from raids? Do you send your one gun out with your scavenger in case he runs into hostile bandits, or keep it at home to defend your shelter from raids? Who do you send out each night to scavenge? Where do they go? And what do they bring back with them? The "rogue-like" fashion of the gameplay means that there's no undoing and no retries. This, combined with the scarcity of resources, makes every choice, every action, and every death is permanent. This gives a great deal of weight to all those choices that the game gives you.

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Star Trek Trexels

I finally got around to buying a modern phone, upgrading my Galaxy SII to a Galaxy S6 Note Edge. With the upgrade in tech, I've finally started trying out some of the free-to-play mobile games that are flooding the market. I had already played SimCity Buildit on my previous phone, but its poor performance and bugs held me back from bothering with any other games on that old SII. But now that I have a new phone, I wanted to try the Star Trek-themed game Trexels.

Star Trek games are few and far between, and good ones are virtually unheard of. Probably my favorite Star Trek game ever was the Windows 98 4x-strategy game Birth of the Federation, which was basically just a Trek reskin of Microprose's Master of Orion II. It wasn't the most technically proficient of games, and the A.I. blatantly cheated, but it was a game that captured the essence of Star Trek by being primarily about exploring the galaxy and colonizing new worlds. Most Trek games are content to just be reskins of shooters or space combat games, which always feels out of place. So Birth of the Federation, despite its obvious flaws, has always stood out to me as a game that really felt like one of the most appropriate uses of the Star Trek license for a video game.

Trexels - exploring space sector
Finally, a Star Trek game that's about exploring space, rather than just shooting things!

And that brings us to Trexels, a free-to-play mobile game that is about exploring space while developing the skills of your ragtag crew and completing the construction of your ship. Sounds like a Star Trek-worthy premise. At least it isn't a first-person shooter. You start the game with a mostly-empty ship and handful of crew members. Your task is to build infrastructure in the ship to allow you to acquire new crew and harvest resources (including "command point", "research", "power", and "dilithium").

To boldly grind...

Resources are harvested by assigning crew to work the relevant rooms, and then you wait some period of real time for the crew to complete the assignment so you can collect the resource. You spend your accumulated resources to build new rooms in the ship, train your crew to increase their ability points, and attempt missions. Completing missions rewards you with experience and ... more resources? So it's kind of circular: you spend resources to attempt mission, and then are rewarded with some of the resources that you spent.

Trexels - harvesting resources
Your crew harvests resources from specific rooms, and other rooms unlock abilities and power-ups.

You also gain general experience, which doesn't really do much other than to unlock new expansion slots for rooms in your ship. Virtually everything you do gives you experience, so you level up fairly quickly. I always have way more available expansion slots than I can possibly use due to the slow rate in which you acquire resources. Once you get past the very first few missions and room-construction, the game really starts to turn into a slow, slogging grind...

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So, Chichian and I have both recently had issues with Steam that required us to create a support ticket. Steam has a rather obtuse system for support tickets, and for many users, it apparently doesn't work at all.

First and foremost, Steam's support requires that you make a separate account just for support. You don't log into Steam support using your existing Steam account. Supposedly, this is because the most common ticket is to retrieve access to a lost account. Either the player forgot their account info, or it had been hijacked. So in order to prevent people from having to make a whole separate Steam user account just to create a support ticket to retrieve their old Steam account, they set up this system in which support is its own separate account to begin with - for everybody. So even if you have full access to your Steam account and only want to report a bug in the client or have an issue with a purchased game not showing up in your library, you still have to go to the trouble of creating a completely separate account.

Steam Support account sign in
Steam Support requires a separate account from your normal Steam account.

You then have to go through the email validation process. After you create an account, they'll send you a verification email. Pretty common stuff. Unfortunately, many users (including myself and Chichian) never get these emails. The same might apply for email requests to reset a password if you forgot your support account's password. The email doesn't go into a spam folder. It doesn't go to the wrong account. It doesn't show up two days later because their emailer services are slow. The emails simply never show up. You're not crazy, there is an explanation.

Apparently, some email providers completely block Steam Support from sending emails to their users for ... some reason. I guess they think Steam Support is some kind of spammer or malware threat? Usually, you'd expect such an email to get sent to a spam folder. But not in this case. It's really annoying that providers are able to simply refuse traffic from specific sources, especially a source that is legitimate like Steam.

Steam Support account sign in
Use a gmail account for Steam Support.
It works ... for now ...

So bottom line: if you are having issues with creating or accessing a Steam Support account, you're not alone. If you're waiting for validation or password reset emails that simply never show up, it's probably because your provider is blocking them. Chichian's Steam Support emails were blocked by Hotmail and Yahoo. Mine was blocked by AOL. It appears that gmail does not block Steam Support though. We were both able to receive the emails when we created an account using gmail. So if you are having issues, I recommend using a gmail address to create your Steam Support account. It will save you some confusion and frustration.

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Civilization V - Augustus Caesar of the Roman Empire

I've already covered strategies for the civilizations that have been added or explicitly changed in the Brave New World expansion and its major fall (2013) patch. Now I'm going to move on to other legacy civilizations that have not had explicit changes, but who may have had their strategies significantly altered by the expansions and other updates. This time, I will be covering one civ that surprisingly does not benefit from Brave New World's new mechanics as much as one might think: the Roman Empire.

Rome is one of the most influential and heavily romanticized cultures of the classical world. The early Roman republic was a system of semi-democratic representational government. Power was divided between two consuls who were annually elected by the citizens and alternated as military leaders to check each others' ambitions, while an appointed body of senators directed foreign policy and enacted laws. The city gradually expanded its power and influence in the second half of the first millennium BC through the overwhelming success of its legionary forces and defeat of its primary rival Carthage, until it eventually came to control almost the entire Mediterranean. Rome itself became the center of government and commerce for most of Europe, and it established an elaborate network of roads, aqueducts, and other engineering feats.

The Roman government was generally very tolerant of foreign religions and cultures, which helped to pacify subjugated peoples. But as Rome became an empire, and its holdings expanded, this tolerance became a liability. Foreign peoples were allowed admittance into the army in order to secure Rome's ever-increasing borders, which lead to a decline in loyalty to Rome as the army became more diverse and less centralized. Eventually, generals would begin competing with each other for control of Rome and the title of emperor, weakening the empire from within and making it vulnerable to external threats such as immigrating Germanic tribes displaced by the Huns. Eventually, these threats would culminate in the sacking of Rome by the Visigothic leader Alaric in August of 410 AD, and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. However, the eastern half of the empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire, would continue to carry the torch of Rome for another thousand years.

Civilization V - Augustus Caesar

After the death of Julius Caesar, his adopted nephew and heir, Gaius Octavius, along with Marc Antony and Marcus Lepidus, tracked down and defeated Brutus, Cassius, and the other assassins who had conspired against Caesar. This new triumvirate quickly disintigrated into civil war, with Octavius decisively defeating both Lepidus and then Antony and holding sole authority over a new Roman Empire. He changed his name to Caesar in honor of his adopted uncle, and reinstated the Roman senate as a puppet facade government to legitimize his dictatorial leadership. He was extremely popular among the Roman citizens due to his relation to Julius, and was eventually honored with the title Augustus. He instituted numerous domestic reform including official police and fire-fighting services, engineering projects such as roads, and expanded the dominion of Rome in Africa, Hispania, and Germania. Octavius found Rome a city of bricks; Augustus left it a city of marble, and the envy of the western world.

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Saturday, September 26, 2015 02:40 PM

Sanchez's UNLV breaks records in first victory

in Sports by MegaBearsFan
Sam Boyd Stadium 2015
The field at Sam Boyd Stadium has also been redecorated to match UNLV's new uniforms.

Expectations were high for UNLV's 2015 football season after the hiring of National High School Champion Bishop Gorman head coach Tony Sanchez. Sanchez spent the off season trying to rebrand the team with new uniforms (and a new field) that embrace the unique culture and history of the city of Las Vegas. But UNLV would have to survive a brutal non-conference schedule that included a nationally-ranked opponent.

Sanchez's team looked promising in the first half of its opening game, as they got off to a 17-3 lead in the second quarter against Northern Illinois. They also got off strong against 13th-ranked UCLA, holding them to only 10 points up until almost halftime. Unfortunately, the Rebels lost both those games due to second-half collapses, and they began to look like the same ol' Rebels. In fact, in the UCLA game, UNLV's starting quarterback, Blake Decker, left the game with an injury in the first half, and the offense wasn't able to do anything under the command of backup quarterback Kurt Palandech. UNLV also faltered against MIchigan, against whom the offense was only able to score a single touchdown. However, in all of these games, UNLV was far more competitive than they were expected to be. The defense played surprisingly well in all three games, but was worn down by their overpowered opponents and the inability of UNLV's offense to move the ball.

So I had no clue what to expect going into UNLV's home game against FCS opponent Idaho State this past weekend. I've witnessed some embarrassing defeats at the hands of FCS teams in year's past, and it was really hard to tell if UNLV's offense was completely incompetent, or if the teams that they played against in their first three games were just that much better. Hopefully, UNLV would be able to score against Idaho State. And score they did!

Devonte Boyd TD catch vs Northern Illinois
UNLV got off to a hot, 17-3 start in the opener against Northern Illinois, but the offense had floundered since.

After quickly turning the opening possession into seven points due to a blown coverage by Idaho State, UNLV's offense failed to do anything in its next couple drives. In the meantime, Idaho State put together some pretty impressive passes to wide open receivers, but was unable to score. The game blew wide open midway through the first quarter though, when UNLV blocked an Idaho State field goal and turned it into another touchdown. After that, UNLV ran away with the game, ending the first quarter with 35 points and going into halftime with a 52-8 lead. UNLV would go on to win the game by a score of 80 to 8, setting school records for most points scored in a quarter, most points scored in a half, and most points scored in a game. The previous school record was 72 points in a game. UNLV's 80-point night also sets a Mountain West Conference scoring record, beating Air Force's previous record, which was also 72.

I've certainly never seen such a dominating performance by UNLV, and it really blew me away. Maybe Sanchez really is turning the program around...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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